Anxiety is a normal human response to stress. Our bodies are designed to prepare for fight or flight when faced with a threatening situation. Our energy is focused on our muscles so that we might take actions necessary to protect ourselves. However, some of us experience excessive anxiety that is disproportionate to our current situation. In those cases, the anxiety works against us.
In modern times, many of the "threats" to our safety are not related to imminent physical danger, but rather a chain of events. That is, the loss of a job means loss of money, which threatens our ability to provide basic needs like food and shelter, which then affects our health and safety. Therefore anxiety can be provoked by fear of job loss (or actual job loss), poor academic performance (which affects our ability to get higher education which will lead to poor earning potential) and rejection by others (which lowers our likelihood of finding employment, getting into college, establishing a safe household, etc.)
In cases like those above, it would be normal to feel stress and anxiety. Oftentimes that stress and anxiety can lead to action that will get us out of the bad situation. (Or--if we choose poor actions--get us into more hot water!) So although unpleasant, anxiety does serve a purpose biologically.
When anxiety goes to disproportionate levels, however, it has the opposite effect: it can cause us to be distracted from the tasks we need to accomplish or make us less effective at them. Anxiety operates in the base parts of our brain, the limbic system, rather than the thinking/planning/logical frontal cortex. In its worst form, anxiety causes us to "freeze" rather than fight or flee. In those cases we have physical reactions to an overload of anxiety, such as a racing heart, trembling, nausea, difficulty breathing and so on. These are called panic attacks.
While some people are more biologically susceptible to anxiety, it's important to note that everyone is capable of reducing their anxiety and their responses to it. Medication is one option. Some non-medical options are the practice of yoga, meditation or mindfulness. Therapy can also help. Here are
some of the things you can learn in therapy:
- Relaxation techniques
- More realistic thoughts about yourself and your abilities
- Better communication skills to empower you to get your needs met
- Relationship skills that will help you take charge of your own life
- An understanding of the physiology of anxiety to better manage it
You don't need to live with constant anxiety. Call me if you'd like to hear more.